Saturday 10 December 2022

Willie Jackson’s New Network Will Go Fishing For a New Audience.

Train Wreck: Perhaps the easiest way to describe what Willie Jackson’s new public broadcaster will be like, is to set out clearly what it will not be like. It will not be fair. It will not be balanced. It will not perceive itself as a platform upon which all New Zealanders, espousing all manner of ideas and opinions, will be made to feel welcome. 

WHY CAN’T WILLIE JACKSON make a case for the merger of Radio NZ and TVNZ?

Last Sunday, on the Q+A current affairs show, he told his host, Jack Tame, that he wanted an “entity” to match Britain’s BBC and Australia’s ABC. Great! Were New Zealanders to be treated to a new public broadcaster modelled on the BBC and the ABC, the country would forever be in the Minister of Broadcasting’s debt.

Unfortunately, Jackson was just blowing smoke. The entity he is in the process of creating will not be the least bit like the BBC or ABC. So unlike them will it be, in fact, that it is actually safer for the Minister to give New Zealanders as few details as possible. Hence his unwillingness to make the case.

So, what will this “entity”: this Frankenstein broadcaster, cobbled together from the dead bodies of New Zealanders’ existing public radio and television networks; actually be like?

Perhaps the easiest way to describe what Jackson’s new public broadcaster will be like, is to set out clearly what it will not be like.

It will not be fair. It will not be balanced. It will not perceive itself as a platform upon which all New Zealanders, espousing all manner of ideas and opinions, will be made to feel welcome. That sort of public broadcaster – of which the BBC is undoubtedly the exemplar – strives to present itself as a mirror: an institution in whose productions the nation expects to see itself reflected – warts and all – and is not disappointed.

But surely, that must be what Jackson and his colleagues have in mind? One would hope so. But if that was indeed the sort of public broadcaster Labour is planning, then, just like the BBC and the ABC, it would be steadfastly non-commercial. More bluntly, it wouldn’t be supported in any way, shape, or form – by advertising.

From the very beginning, however, Labour’s made it plain that the merged entity will rely for a goodly chunk of its income on the sale of advertising. That decision, alone, shows that, regardless of the Minister’s protestations, the entity he has planned will be nothing like the BBC or the ABC – which rely upon a broadcasting licence fee, and direct state funding, respectively. Insert advertisers into the broadcasting equation, and pretty soon all your left with is a schedule dedicated to attracting the highest number of eyeballs, by catering to the lowest common cultural denominators.

That is why Radio NZ is the only real public broadcaster left in New Zealand. Its National and Concert Programmes are rigorously non-commercial – a status they enjoy by virtue of the fact that the entire network is funded by the taxpayer. It is this complete independence from advertisers and sponsors that makes Radio NZ’s diverse selection of programmes, catering to all manner of tastes, possible.

Television NZ, by way of contrast, is utterly dependent on the advertisers’ dollars. It’s programming is dictated by the ratings. If not enough people are watching, then advertisers demand a discount, and the network’s revenues fall. If more viewers are keen to watch FBoy Island than an historical drama, then it’s the reality TV show that gets the prime-time slot. Which is why there are so few historical dramas, and so many reality TV shows, on prime-time NZ television.

Forty years ago, New Zealand’s public television networks, heavily subsidised by a broadcasting licence-fee, and with the amount of advertising strictly regulated, was as dedicated to producing the broadest possible range of high-quality programmes as public radio still is today. The full commercialisation of TVNZ – yet another gift of the Rogernomics era – would undoubtedly have been Radio NZ’s fate had it not been for its huge, highly-educated, and politically-engaged audience’s ability to keep it out of the private sector’s withering grip.

Which brings us back to the original question: Why can’t Willie Jackson defend the merger of RNZ and TVNZ? The answer is brutally simple: Radio NZ currently broadcasts to the wrong demographic. It’s listeners are too old, too white, too well-educated, and insufficiently “woke” to be herded in the direction Labour favours.

That is why Willie Jackson is so determined to merge Radio NZ with TVNZ. He needs a new net with which to go fishing for a new audience.

He neither needs, nor wants, RNZ’s existing listeners.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 9 December 2022.


John Drinnan said...

You are too kin d about Willie Jackson and guessing what plans he has for the merged entity. The reference to commerciality is relevant. But the requirement to fit with government policy is more to the point, Four months out and we have no idea about content. Jackson lobbied heavily for the ministerial appointment and Ardern give it to him knowing the dangers. It was a cavalier decision from a leader who does not care about broadcasting and journalism

Archduke Piccolo said...

I rather think that the BBC that is described here is the BBC that long ago became a long-vanished speck in the rearview mirror. If this article is correct, Willie Jackson's creation will become - unfair, unbalanced, silencing the voiceless - exactly what the BBC is today: a Tory echo chamber. All you have to do is survey the treatment Jeremy Corbyn received at the hands of the BBC over the last 5 or 6 years. It was pitiful. That's just for starters.

The fact is that in the entire Anglophone West, the 4th Estate has become so politicised that one hears talk of the emergence of a FIFTH Estate, the longed-for genesis of which has been attributed (among others I can think of) to Julian Assange. God knows we (the people) need an alternate voice. In a way, whatever Willie Jackson creates will be neither here nor there, neither one thing nor another, distinct from the existing service - "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...".


David George said...

"insufficiently “woke” to be herded in the direction Labour favours"

What do you call a government that believes it should be "herding" the people; as this one clearly does?

You can't be serious Chris. The ABC and BBC as examples of the type of "platform upon which all New Zealanders, espousing all manner of ideas and opinions, will be made to feel welcome".
Those two institutions are openly hostile to anything outside the approved narrative. I've not seen any sort of welcome from them for folk questioning their approved covid, climate or trans or race narrative. Balanced they are not. It's easy to imagine Jackson's totalitarian fantasies finding common cause with those two.

TVNZ and RNZ have become woke moralisers as well and, in the case of TVNZ, purveyors of childish tatt. Is there really any justification for their continued existence under tax payer funding. The claim that they fairly represent "all manner of ideas and opinions" is demonstrably untrue; Jackson's Pravda would be worse. Perhaps Jackson & Co really believe that people will just sit there like idiots and be told what to think. What the hell do we want government dicking around with the media for in the first place. Get rid.

nicholastwig said...

We bridled when Willie Jackson cried out," Democracy doesn't work for Maori!" No it doesn't. We can see why. Trouble is it doesn't work for the rest of us either, when limited thinkers of Willie's and Nanaia's ilk get so much power. As we endure this infuriating situation, just praying it can be adjusted when they are swept into oblivion (How long Oh Lord!) we have to ensure a better political structure.

Brendan McNeill said...


You are overly generous in your praise of the ABC and RNZ National. Far from representing the views of all Australians and New Zealanders respectively, they are zealously ‘conservative free’ zones. They are an exemplar of Woke in respect to their subject material, their guests, their programming.

I drop by occasionally to confirm my observations, and then revert back to the Concert program. I’m not a huge fan of Opera or brass band music but even those segments are preferable to the ideological monotone of National radio.

Jack Scrivano said...

Chris, I don't think that you can have listened to RNZ National of late. It has become as woke as (to use the New Zealand vernacular). Thank goodness we managed to save RNZ Concert.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jesus Brendan, you obviously never listen to national radio at all. Kathryn Ryan is always having businesspeople on to comment about this that and the other, and incidentally get free advertising for their businesses. I can't remember the last time she had a union representative on there.
Admittedly, much of the rest of it is fluff these days.

Alan Rhodes said...

Many years ago in a land far from here, then, and not so far now, Lucille Ball featured in a programme; 'I Love Lucy' It was a very popular U.S. comedy that made people laugh which the Vietnam War news didn't, and the TV station that slotted the programme into its peak evening viewing knew that advertisers would pay grandly for the right to peddle their goods and services during the course of the programme.

And so it was, until a survey revealed that viewers of 'I Love Lucy' were so enamoured by the plots that they would discuss the programme in the frequent advertising intervals, rather than sit woodenly being assaulted by expensively provided commercials. A balancing act was needed. 'I Love Lucy' creators were told to make their product marginally less 'exciting' to better audience receptions for what was thrown at them during the 'breaks'. A 'better balance' apparently.

Happy zombies springs to mind.

Commerce was everything, and entertainment and information was, and still is, tailored to that end. And so it increasingly is here too. Free-to-Air TV is insufferable, consisting of a deluge of constantly repeated implores to spend,and pitched at the lowest common denominator of audience credulity, intelligence, and patience. Consumption brainwashing!

Radio NZ is the only lifeboat really left for those punch-drunk from enthusiastic commercial exhortations. Crapitalism reigns supreme, and its auditory and visual assaults on the captive citizenry of this sad little land are only likely to increase with Willie Jackson's visions for our future.

In 'The Time Machine', a far future world is peopled by humans who have evolved into Morlocks and Tweenies. The former live underground, intelligent, creative, and brutal, food-harvesting the Tweenies, who mindlessly cavort in the sunshine above.



David George said...

The Herald had a report on trust in our institutions - from their WEF suck up series "The New New Zealand: Rebuilding Better". News media are considered untrustworthy by 38% and very untrustworthy by a further 16%.

"That’s right, media are the least trusted institution in New Zealand, by a proverbial country mile. Which makes for a hilarious dichotomy when the second-least trusted institution, the government, is creating a modern equivalent of Soviet era Pravda by merging TVNZ and RNZ, on the basis that people no longer trust the media. Willie Jackson can’t see the problem, but I sure can and so can you, without a shadow of a doubt."

David George said...

Any delusions, frequently presented here and elsewhere, that our media are representative of Kiwis generally have been put to rest by this latest study out from Massey University.

81% of journalists are left of centre 81%
15% right of centre
20% left to extreme left
1% right to extreme right
Ethnic diversity is reasonably representative, gender representation significantly female - approaching 60%.

I wonder if Willie & Co are concerned about this extremely unbalanced diversity of opinion.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Welcome to a world where consumers don't pay for journalism any more, and so the upper class does.
Welcome to a world where people no longer vote for their interests or their values, because they have been herded into a social media tribe by the algorithms.
Welcome to a world where the facts don't matter, because with enough "influencers" you can just make your own facts.
Welcome to a world where democracy is becoming impossible."

What's behind the lack of trust of media? I suspect the first 3 statements on this quote. We have long had commercial radio and television, but it wasn't always put at the disposal of people whose desire it is to promote and promulgate neoliberalism. I don't think we have any branches of Murdoch media in NZ – although I might be wrong – but if so perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies.

Shane McDowall said...

My Two Cents Worth.

Keep RNZ and TVNZ separate.

TVNZ to be ad free or almost so. No more movies where they play the first 20 minutes ad free, then start playing six minutes of movie in between five minute ad breaks.

Two free to air channels, TV-1 and Maori TV. Maori TV play a lot of good movies and documentaries.

aj said...

" News media are considered untrustworthy by 38% and very untrustworthy by a further 16%"

The issue of trust in the media is a world-wide problem, unsalvageable in my view. This isn't really a side issue to the merger question in New Zealand.

The Munk Debates are a semi-annual series of debates on major policy issues held in Toronto.

This debate is worth watching because Gladwell and Goldberg were incapable of defending themselves. Long, takes 98 mins.

'Be it resolved, don't trust mainstream media' - Munk Debate. Nov 30th 2022

Douglas Murray and Matt Taibbi argued that the MSN cannot be trusted, New Yorker contributor Malcolm Gladwell and columnist Michelle Goldberg of the New York defended the MSN. Murray and Taibbi won with the largest swing in the event’s history, moving from a 48%-52% voter deficit to a 67%-33% win.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"81% of journalists are left of centre 81%"

And the proportion of editors and newspaper owners? I would say close to 0%. And who has the power? Not the journalists when stories are spiked in case they offend large business advertisers.